It’s 6:50 a.m. on a drizzling New York morning and Chuck Todd is standing behind a wall on the cluttered Today Show set, safely out of shot as he waits to talk America’s early risers through the upcoming day in politics. He is sipping from a paper coffee cup as a makeup artist brushes down his charcoal suit—“I can’t pull off green,” he tells me as Al Roker passes by, snug in olive-colored tweed.
The moment is what Chuck Todd calls a “pause” in his workday—a rare sliver of respite in a 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. day that sees Todd shoot spots for Today and Morning Joe, write or edit ten posts for MSNBC’s First Read blog, pitch stories for the Nightly News—reporting them if they go ahead—and host his own daily cable show, The Daily Rundown. Always, he’s stopping at a computer or unlocking his BlackBerry to Tweet his thoughts, read a blog, check his messages (“I subscribe to every e-mail alert known to man”), or watch a new campaign commercial.
So, naturally, the pause doesn’t last long.
By 7:08 a.m., Todd is behind a desk on the Today set, riffing into camera on the day’s big beltway stories. Twenty-five minutes later, Todd is wedged between Mika Brzezinski and Jon Meacham on the Morning Joe set, a flashy, futuristic table-and-flatscreens setup at one end of the main NBC newsroom on the third floor of Rockefeller Center. When the segment wraps, Todd heads to an unused studio to find a computer from which to prepare for The Daily Rundown. He scrolls through a draft script, deleting chunks, adding others. He’s on in just over an hour. His earpiece dangles from a clip on his shirt collar, ready for action. It’s a little before 8 a.m.
Chuck Todd might be the busiest politico on television. Since Tim Russert brought him over in 2007 from National Journal’s The Hotline to fill NBC’s political director role, Todd has been adding to an already vast job description. In 2008, after Russert died suddenly of a heart attack and White House correspondent David Gregory moved to Meet The Press, Todd became co-White House correspondent with fellow NBC newcomer Savannah Guthrie. Then in late 2009, Todd and Guthrie started prepping to launch MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown, the 9 a.m. weekday hour they have co-hosted since January this year.
Rundown is, like many daytime MSNBC shows, a brightly colored and briskly paced mix of politics, news, and good humor. The idea for the Rundown, said Todd, was to take advantage of his and Guthrie’s positions in the White House press corps—and of NBC’s swath of correspondents across the country and the world—to show people what the news of the day would be. Usually filmed in D.C., Todd sees the Rundown as a counterpoint to his favorite political program from the 1990s and early 2000s, CNN’s Inside Politics, which wrapped up the day’s news after it had happened. “I think in the nineties we were all of the mindset in the news cycle where everybody wanted to know what it all means. I think now everybody is in the mindset of: ‘What’s going to happen today?’”
Tailing Todd through the hallways of NBC, where his star shines bright and passersby are quick to smile and nod, it’s easy to forget that outside of the network—and outside of the White House press room—Todd faces his share of critics. Charging mostly from the blogosphere, they see him as the ultimate embodiment of Washington insiderism, a horse-race reporter who puts far too much emphasis on polls and numbers and races and districts and candidates in lieu of issues. It’s that oft-lambasted style of reportage, conducted through off-the-record chats with White House insiders and discussions with others who live and breathe in the bubble. And for some, the thirty-eight-year-old Todd is its biggest proponent.
Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, who in 2009 debated Todd over his contention that George W. Bush should not be investigated by the Justice Department for allegedly sanctioning torture, told me: “If there were a dictionary that had a term in it called ‘conventional Beltway political reporting,’ you could easily have a picture of Chuck Todd next to it. He’s as conventional as it gets.”
Such accusations don’t rankle Todd, who sees his knowledge of the capitol, and his position within it, as important to his mission. He’s in the Beltway to help those who are not. “I want to do two things,” says Todd. “Help people understand why something happened in the political world and demystify the political world. I like the idea of being a person who can help make sense of it all.”